How You Can Become an Influencer

As IMA’s President and CEO, I take pride in the organization’s global recognition as a leader in the accounting and finance profession. I believe that to be successful in business, you must be an inspiring leader and set a positive example for others in your business and industry – to be an influencer. Influencing others takes many shapes, and it is an attribute not just reserved for the “top person.” Here are a few tips to stand out as an influencer:

Know the Subject Matterpendulum
One way to become an influencer is to be credible, to be technically competent, and to be a master at whatever you do. That means keeping up with the latest trends and sharing knowledge with the people around you. To signal this competence, consider earning a certification, like the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant). Certified professionals have earned a mark of distinction and are trusted business advisors within their businesses. They also set the standard for others around them and are always working on continuous improvement – in their careers, businesses, and personal lives.

Commit to On-Going Learning and Growth
Being an influencer also means you are committed to continuous learning and growth, including on-going continuing education requirements as part of the commitment to your certification. This enhances your credibility as an influencer because it shows you are committed to not only staying current but also staying ahead, enabling you to provide relevant and, hopefully inspiring, advice.

Become a Mentor
Mentoring is another way you can influence others – whether you’re advising your peers, young professionals just starting their careers, or students via a college campus group (such as IMA’s network of student chapters or mentoring program). Sharing your knowledge with and guiding others is a great way to build your influence to nurture and develop great leaders of the future.

Listen Carefully
As a leader in your business, you must ensure you listen carefully and empathetically to your employees and peers. A good influencer doesn’t just hear what people say but listens to their advice and guidance in order to lead better. Influencing, much like mentoring, is a two-way street with mutual learning and growth for both parties. Be open to being an inspiring influencer and even an inspired “influencee” (yes, a new word!).

Engage imask2n Fierce Conversations
You will enhance your credibility and value as an influencer if you commit to a culture of challenge and engage in fierce conversations – avoiding artificial harmony at one extreme or personal attacks at the other, but rather embracing honest, genuine, and head-on conversations to solve issues. (Read Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott – this is one of my favorite books and has taught me a lot!)

Be an Influencer
IMA has set the tone in our industry by releasing timely research via the IMA Research Foundation, thought-provoking magazine articles via Strategic Finance and Management Accounting Quarterly, and educational webinars and courses to supplement CPE requirements for certified professionals. I will continuously work toward making IMA a strong influencer around the world to enrich careers, organizations, and the public interest.

Share your stories of how you’ve influenced others in the comments below.

Written by Jeff Thomson, CMA, CAE
Follow me on Twitter @ima_JeffThomson

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Attending College? Don’t Neglect the Soft Skills!

College is a time for students to learn and grow. In addition to the technical skills you’ll need for your future career, you’ll also need to develop “soft skills” that will enable you to succeed in the workplace. While some schools integrate these skills throughout their curriculum, you need to be sure that they’re part of your college education.

Time Managementwork-life balance shoes
Students who have a job and can maintain a healthy GPA have great experience with time management skills. Balancing your time between work and school isn’t easy, but if you make a list of priorities in order of importance and timing, you’ll be more productive and organized. This is a valuable skill to have and build upon throughout your career. It can help you to never miss a deadline. In addition, make sure to schedule “you time” so that you have time to relax and decompress.

Team Management
Group projects are common in college and in the workplace. Take this opportunity to step up and become a leader. Make sure you have open and fair communication, a clear goal for the group, and a plan for delegating work. Your professor will notice, and you’ll gain confidence in leading a team.

Making Presentations
Group projects are sometimes accompanied by a presentation in front of the class. Use this opportunity as a way to practice making presentations. If your goal is to become a leader within a company one day, it’s important that you get comfortable in front of an audience now.

failure ropeDeal With Failure
You won’t always win the fight, but it’s important to learn how to get up when you’re knocked down. Say you put 110% of effort into a research report, but it received a low grade. Instead of getting frustrated, talk to your professor about what went wrong (hindsight), what he/she didn’t like (insight), and what you can do better next time (foresight). This can also help you in an office setting where professionals have to be prepared to have their work critiqued by top management and know how to respond to creative criticism.

The Big Picture
It’s just as important to learn soft skills as it is to learn technical skills. Leadership, organization, and communication are only a few examples of these essential soft skills. Be proactive in trying to develop these skills. If you’re not developing them in the classroom, seek out other opportunities. Participating in an IMA student chapter or the IMA Student Case Competition are great ways to do this.

These skills can help prep you for a smoother transition into the workforce and for success in your career. Companies today are looking for qualified candidates who already know how to work on a team, manage a schedule, and give a presentation. The training you get in college will make you stand out from the crowd. By staying focused on your goals for the future and continuously developing your soft skills, you’ll get the most out of your college education.

Written by Dr. Raef Lawson, CMA, CPA, CFP, CFA
Follow me on Twitter @RaefLawson

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The Elevator (Pitch) of Success

An “elevator pitch” is a short 30- to 60-second sales pitch for your business, your product, or yourself. The term derives from the image of meeting someone in an elevator and having to sell them on your product or yourself in the time it takes for the elevator to get to the next stop. It’s especially important for students and recent graduates to craft their own personal elevator pitch before they enter the workforce and know how to use it throughout their career.

Create ItBusinessman hand touching going up sign on lift control panel
Start off by writing down the goal of your elevator pitch, basic background information about yourself, and what characteristics give you a competitive advantage in the marketplace. This shouldn’t be more than 100 words long. Here’s a sample elevator pitch that I might have used many years ago:

“Hi, my name is Dennis Whitney. I’m currently studying finance at Fordham University. I really enjoy the analytical nature of finance, but I also like to write. My professors have encouraged me to look into an internship at a financial publication or finance-related not-for-profit organization. I would love an opportunity to use my knowledge of accounting and finance, as well as my strong analytical and writing skills. If you know of any such opportunities, please let me know. Here’s my business card.”

Practice It
After you’ve organized your thoughts, practice your speech verbally in front of someone. Your family and friends can help you identify what’s good and what needs improvement. As you progress through your career, you’ll become better at writing your pitch and speaking more comfortably in front of people. Outlining it on paper allows you to think about the details before verbally practicing it. You don’t necessarily have to memorize the speech, but you should memorize the outline: introduction, skills and interests, what you want, and why. Also, be flexible. You might want to customize what you say depending on who you meet in the “elevator.”

Professionals use elevator pitches in their day-to-day work. Whether your boss asks you to pitch a new product to the team or go to a trade show to acquire new clients, you will always need an elevator pitch to help you along the way.

iStock_000011097997_MediumUse It
Once you’ve created and practiced your elevator pitch, you can use it nearly anywhere. In-person events are the best place to use your pitch, since your passion and the first impression you make play a large role in how your pitch is perceived. Using it online or on your résumé might not be as impactful. Recent college graduates looking for their first job can use it to promote themselves at a job fair, networking event, or even the supermarket to build contacts. And no matter what industry you decide to work in, you’ll use elevator pitches throughout your career – whether you realize it or not!

It has been said that it only takes seven seconds to make a good first impression. Make them count by dressing professionally, making eye contact, and being respectful, and don’t forget to smile.

Written by Dennis Whitney, CMA, CFM, CAE
Follow me on twitter: @IMA_DWhitney

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Become the Gatekeepers of Big Data

More financial professionals working in business are using Big Data in their decision-making process. And the explosion of data generated each day plays a huge role in how management accountants perform their day-to-day duties. Although there are many positive aspects of integrating new technology into our companies and using analytics to interpret data, there are also drawbacks. Here’s a breakdown of Big Data and how management accountants can become the gatekeepers of this information.

What Is Big Data?girl on phone - connect to customers
In 2013, IMA® and ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) published a report titled “Big Data: Its Power and Perils,” which defines Big Data as “the vast amount of data continually collected through devices and technologies such as credit cards and customer loyalty cards, the Internet and social media and, increasingly, Wi-Fi sensors, and electronic tags.” Big Data can help improve company performance and productivity to increase company revenue and stakeholder trust. Management accountants use Big Data to identify risks in real time and to make valuable business decisions.

What Are the Trends?
Big Data is changing the landscape of business. Companies are going from using predictive analytics to prescriptive analytics – they’re collecting data from their customers’ cell phones and other mobile devices to analyze customer profitability. This allows companies to cross-sell and up-sell their products. Management accountants are charged with analyzing this data and distilling it into bite-sized chunks so that management, who might not be familiar with the analytics, can find it easier to digest. As gatekeepers of this information, the management accountant’s role will become increasingly important.

What Are Some of the Risks?
As the amount of data grows, so does the risk for hackers to steal information and other actors to commit fraud. Although more data might make it easier to make decisions, it also requires an increase in both physical and digital internal controls. Securing your physical data warehouse and controlling who has access to it will help deter wrongdoing. And because hackers are everywhere, cybersecurity should be top of mind for every company – large or small. As a result, improved tools and techniques are being developed daily.

In addition, not knowing how to analyze so much data can lead to erroneous conclusions and decisions. There’s also an opportunity cost of gathering, storing, and analyzing bigger data instead of making other core investments. In other words, picking the wrong tools and hiring the wrong people to use them will increase the likelihood of misallocation of resources.

What Are the Rewards?
On the flip side, there are many opportunities for company growth and market expansion because of Big Data. Like I mentioned previously, companies can harness a new market by emerging in the mobile market. Mobile devices can be accessed through Wi-Fi (or if the customer downloads the company’s app – another opportunity for expansion), which makes it easier to connect to your customers and advertise new products. In turn this improves analytics, and thus, you can learn how to better serve your customers, increase revenue, and develop targeted services to niche markets.

How Can We Protect Company Data?
When using Big Data, companies should always consider a data governance strategy, which will help mitigate risk. The strategy should cover the availability, usability, or utility of information and the integrity, quality, and security of information. Management accountants play a large role in protecting company information, systems, data centers, and more through effective controls and monitoring. After all, you are the gatekeepers of Big Data.

To become part of the conversation, visit the Technology Solutions & Practices (TS&P) Committee on LinkUp IMA:

Written by Linda Devonish-Mills, CMA, CPA, CAE

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Women in Leadership: Power Your Way to the Top

There was a lot of excitement at the IMA® Annual Conference & Expo this year: the breath-taking city, the record-breaking numbers of CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) certificates awarded during the year, and the passionate winners of IMA’s various awards. I want to take this time to spotlight the winners of the Distinguished Member Award, which recognizes IMA members whose successes, exceptional achievements, dedication, and professionalism bring honor to IMA and the profession. This year, two inspiring women received the honor:

fatemaFatema El-Wakeel, CMA, MBA, is the bought-out engine strategy and capacity planner at Jaguar Land Rover in the United Kingdom. She has held many complex leadership roles while working in strategic planning, change management, and financial management in different industries across the EMEA region. She has been promoting IMA and the CMA program in Egypt, the U.K., and Ireland and has helped IMA and the CMA become internationally recognized. While she lived in Egypt, Fatema founded the IMA Cairo Chapter. Then she moved to the U.K. to continue her education. She recently graduated from Manchester University with an MBA. Within the past few years, Fatema has worked to connect the U.K. and Ireland to the CMA program and is currently working to establish an IMA chapter in the U.K. In addition, Fatema’s picture is featured in the lobby of IMA Headquarters in Montvale, N.J., welcoming everyone into the building with her warm smile.

NiwNjAzBLeslie F. Seidman, CPA, is the executive director of the Center for Excellence in Financial Reporting at the Lubin School of Business at Pace University. She also is a director at Moody’s Corporation, a governor of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), and is the immediate past chair of the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB). In keeping with IMA’s Mission and Core Values, Leslie supports female accounting professionals “so that they can reach their full career potential.” Most recently, Leslie launched the Women’s Accounting Leadership Series (WALS), which are events cosponsored by IMA and Pace University. This innovative forum focuses on both business acumen and career development, to help more women advance in the profession.

Blazing the Path
IMA and Pace University cosponsor the WALS events, which gather female accounting and finance leaders at all levels of their career to explore trends and topics important to the profession. Speakers at these events have included Leslie Seidman; Dr. Sandra Richtermeyer, former Chair of IMA’s Global Board of Directors and associate dean at Xavier University; and Kristin Bauer, partner at Deloitte LLP and former FASB Fellow.

ION_343_WALS - 2

From left to right: Dr. Sandra Richtermeyer, former Chair of IMA’s Global Board of Directors and associate dean at Xavier University; Kristin Bauer, partner at Deloitte LLP and former FASB Fellow; and Leslie Seidman, executive director of the Center for Excellence in Financial Reporting at the Lubin School of Business at Pace University.

When Leslie first discussed with me the idea of a women’s accounting leadership forum to network, grow, and learn (and to address real-world issues like the low proportion of females in senior accounting leadership positions), I too became passionate about the idea and asked Sandra if she would be interested in working with Leslie. The answer was a resounding, “Are you kidding, of course!” And now we have conducted two sessions with strong attendance and engagement. The WALS events have turned into an interactive forum for women to discuss and educate each other on both technical and leadership skills. It’s important that IMA support this platform as a conversation for career issues, current business issues, and more.

The next event will be held October 9, 2015, at PACE University in New York City. Sandra and Leslie will be joined by Sue Cosper, chairman of the Emerging Issues Task Force and technical director of the FASB. Sandra and Leslie plan to hold these events twice per year.

Written by Jeff Thomson, CMA, CAE
Follow me on Twitter @ima_JeffThomson

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An Open Letter to Students: The Real World, the Talent Gap, and Your Future

Dear Students,

As a veteran professor, a common frustration I have is the limited amount of classroom time needed to cover all of the “required” content, leaving little time to discuss career-related topics, such as what to expect once you graduate and what’s expected of you at your first job. Many students only acquire this knowledge from hands-on experience or time spent with a mentor. With this in mind, I’ve compiled a few key topics I’ve conveyed to my students over the years. They also may be helpful to you as you take the next step into the professional world.

About the Real Worldbaby_boomers
Congratulations! You’re about to enter a growing profession that needs you: The accounting profession is rapidly growing in terms of the number of new jobs, and, at the same time, nearly 10,000 baby boomers will be retiring every day for the next 20 years, according to Pew Research Center. This is important because employers will look to you to fill these jobs.

In many ways, college has sheltered you – you enroll in the required courses, attend lectures, study your textbooks, prepare case studies, and perhaps perform some independent research. But that’s only part of what you need to do to succeed. Not only are you expected to know technical skills in the professional world, you’ll also need to have mastered numerous nontechnical skills including leadership, business acumen, strategic thinking/execution, change management, process improvement, and more.

The accounting profession is changing dramatically, and the expectation of accountants’ skills level is rising, along with expectations regarding their ability to contribute to the success of their organizations. The challenges you encounter in the business world will require you to draw upon the skills you learned in the classroom in an integrated manner, not in isolation as are often presented in class.

About the Talent Gap
The talent gap – also known as the Competency Crisis in accounting – arises when colleges’ curricula aren’t consistently aligned with the on-the-job demands for accounting and financial professionals.

Some schools are “CPA-schools,” training their students for entry-level public accounting jobs. That’s fine, except for the fact that more than half of students will transition to accounting and finance positions in companies within three years of graduation. In these positions, you’ll need a different skill set than those needed in public accounting positions. Often candidates are unprepared for these jobs.

To confront this issue, you should take courses that prepare you for a wide variety of positions in the field of accounting – this may include taking additional electives. You need to prepare for your lifelong career, not just your first job. In this regard, IMA has been working with schools to craft the curricula to provide a more-well-rounded skill set.

Preparing for YOUR Future
What can you do to ensure YOUR career success? Here are some suggestions:

  • Make sure your college curriculum prepares you for a wide variety of career choices. Talk with your professors about the variety of accounting careers and what you should do to prepare for them.
  • Work on developing your “hard” and “soft” skills. For example, join and actively participate in the IMA student chapter at your school. (If there is none, start one!) You also can participate in IMA’s Student Case Competition or attend IMA’s Student Leadership Conference.
  • Use internships and mentorships to your advantage. Internships are a great way to gain necessary skills while building your résumé and networking with individuals in the field. Working in business and alongside industry leaders will give you a competitive advantage when applying for jobs.

You have a huge opportunity for future career advancement. Once you have found your career path, there are many ways for you to expand your career horizon: earn a certification, become a mentor or mentee, take continuing education courses, earn a post-graduate degree, and so much more. Today’s accountants are expected to continuously learn to keep pace with the rapidly changing business environment. Welcome to the exciting field of professional accountancy!

The profession needs strong talent for the future. Will you be ready?

Written by Dr. Raef Lawson, CMA, CPA, CFP, CFA
Follow me on Twitter @RaefLawson

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“Plan for the Future: A Career in Management Accounting” – Jeff Thomson, New Accountant
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De-MYTH-defying the Accounting Profession

Over the years, the accounting profession has accumulated a number of misconceptions, and it’s important for students choosing their career path to decipher the facts from the myths. Let me help you de-myth-defy the profession to clarify the role of the accountant and help advance the profession.

1. All accountants do taxes.
This is one of most common misconceptions about accountants. Although most people attracted to accounting like the numbers aspect of it, there are so many other paths you can take with an accounting or finance degree – becoming a tax preparer is only one of them.

Because many college curricula focus on public accounting – hence the misconception – it’s sometimes difficult to decide your path while you’re still in school. Once you’re in the field, however, the hands-on experience will help you decide what specialty is right for you.

S11_LENA_0432. Accounting is a male-dominated profession.
Contrary to popular belief, the field is actually dominated by women. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women accounted for 61% of accountants and auditors in 2014. And women are earning the majority of bachelor’s degrees (52%) and master’s degrees (54%) in accounting.

3. Accountants don’t make important financial decisions.
Management accountants are increasingly becoming strategic business partners for their companies. Not only can we interpret the financials of the company, but we’re also able to advise top management on opportunities to grow the company, impacting the overall direction of the company and helping to maximize profits. Our skills in performance measurement, analysis, and risk management help organizations prosper in a sustainable way. We have gone from “bean counters” to “bean growers.”

4. You can’t make good money as an accountant.
IMA’s Global Salary Survey reveals that accountants’ average annual salary is $100,000 in the U.S. (the map in the survey report (Figure 1 below) shows the average salary and compensation rates from all over the world). Top management like CFOs and controllers are some of the highest-paid employees in a company – and they are accountants!

Also, holding certifications can increase your annual salary and compensation. This year, professionals holding the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) credential reported earning an average of 63% more in total annual compensation than their noncertified peers. Certifications help increase your salary because they demonstrate your mastery of the critical skills needed on the job today.

Basic CMYK

For the Future
Accountants are in high demand, and the benefits are considerable. When starting your career in accounting, consider the various opportunities open to you. One last myth to note about accounting is that it’s boring. It is anything but – believe or not, a career in management accounting can actually be exciting! Our work with budgets and strategy help a business drive value and make the work of nonprofit organizations possible. The accountants of tomorrow have an enormous opportunity for growth and career enrichment. How will you impact your future?

Written by Dennis Whitney, CMA, CFM, CAE
Follow me on twitter: @IMA_DWhitney

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